White Washed Walls: A Story of Privilege
Growing up, I spent much of my life in settings that were predominately white. The members at my church were mainly white. My public schooling was largely Caucasian. The neighborhoods I grew up in were mostly white. My childhood experience was that of a typical white male, born to middle-class evangelical parents in the twentieth century American South.
Boys Will Be Boys
As far as I was concerned, my experience was the same as all or at least most other boys. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I began to learn that my childhood experiences were a product of privilege my skin color afforded.
My (white) friends and I played with air-soft (fake) guns at the park all the time. But we were never so much as approached by a cop for our behavior (privilege of the white neighborhood). My parents and I never had a conversation about how to act if approached by a police officer (privilege). I’ve never had someone avoid my presence because I look “scary” (privilege). I received a great adolescent education which prepared and allowed me to attend an institution of higher learning (privilege).
Like most young males, I made extremely foolish choices and I’m ashamed of the things I did as a child and teenager: Trespassing, vandalism, theft, assault and malicious mischief. But most of these incidents were basically chalked up to: “Well, boys will be boys.”
By no means do I blame my parents; they provided the best they could for me and I was always punished according to my crime! But none of the incidents listed legally resulted in anything more than a speech by a police officer, encouraging us to make smarter decisions. I’m very thankful for the multitude of mercies those officers bestowed. But now I can’t help but wonder why.
BB Guns and the Civil Rights
Astonishingly, there is a legal caveat to this familiar statement about young men. “Boys will be boys”, but only if those boys are white. I played with BB guns in the park and I definitely walked down the street with a knife. Tragically, the “boys will be boys” shield didn’t protect Tamir Rice and Laquan McDonald as it did me.
It’s a horrifying reality that many of the structural systems of our country love and value whiteness first (and only). Two centuries of government sanctioned chattel slavery and a century of Jim Crow oppression are systemic wounds that cannot all be mended 50 years post Civil Rights.
Huffington Post writer Bob Cesca explains, “Even after the slaves were freed, the effort to reconstruct the nation led to the North and South agreeing upon a common enemy to blame for the war and the subsequent hardships it caused: black people became a national scapegoat as society embraced the Lost Cause Mythology and the absolution of the South for seceding.”
Privilege and Burden
I write all this to encourage my white privileged brothers and sisters to assess all that the Lord has blessed you with and to stand in solidarity with those who’ve experienced marginalization and oppression. Subtle acts are wonderful and essential, but it’s time to publicly take a stand.
“While I appreciate when white allies work for racial justice in subtle ways, that does not remove the responsibility of making a public stance.”
Do not be fooled; taking this stance will come with sacrifice. It may strain relationships, make you uncomfortable and blot your reputation. Yet the Lord Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
I believe Ekemini Uwan sums it best: “Bearing the burdens of another is the ultimate imitation of Jesus, our supreme burden bearer who carried our burdens until He breathed his last. Brothers and sisters, surely you can lay down your privilege in order to stand with and defend us when we are attacked by fellow Christians.”
7 thoughts on “White Washed Walls: A Story of Privilege”
I attribute everything good that has happened to me to God through Jesus Christ, in other words I recognize Him and give Him glory for what He has done for me. I also share with those around me the good things that he has given me but I know that I could do more and am endeavoring to do so. As far as the things of the world, I agree with what Paul said in Phil. 3 2Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
The thing that stands out to me in your writing is that you attribute what you have, who you are, to your ‘white privilege’, you do not recognize that it is God who blessed you, seems to be a form of idolatry. You use your ‘white privilege’ as a means to shame others into falling into line with your invented mandate/s. To be quit frank with you it appears that you fall into the same category of those that Paul exhorts us to beware of, those ‘mutilators of the flesh’, (I know, you are being persecuted now) you have a different method of mutilating the flesh, ‘white privilege’. Anyway, just an observation, not a comfortable one I am sure, but an observation never the less.
Here is the thing, my call is to follow Christ! Therefore I seek to find my identity in Him and live within His kingdom mandate. In His kingdom He says that there is no bond nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female but we all are one in Christ. IF, as those who are genuinely saved, would come under this mandate and obey what He commands, many of your ‘so called’ race, racism (race is an invented philosophy, a construct of man designed to oppress) would be far less of an issue and perhaps no issue at all. But it seems you have another agenda, perhaps a different gospel…I hope not but it does appear that way!
I hope and pray that His spirit guides you to what is true. I cannot say it better than what he already said in regards to issues of the flesh;
2 Cor 5 16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Amen brother. I am so tired of these white privilege articles as if every white person in the world had a mistreatment force field around them powered by the absence of pigmentation.
Thanks William, I sometimes feel like I am the only person that feels this way.
This article is disingenuous, it fosters the myth that all white people came from similar circumstances. It does nothing to heal, only hurt, race relations in this country. I will continue to treat others equally in a world where I am increasingly blamed for every misery and woe ever suffered by a non-white person anywhere in the world. The only group more maligned than whites is perhaps Jews. It is a struggle each day not to give in to outright hatred. MLK struggled for equality and unity. All I see today is division, (BLM, NAACP, LULAC, NBPP, BSU) I could go on and on. Before you paint me with a certain brush, examine your own attitude. Your own privilege, Your own affirmative guilt. But, who cares what I say or think? I’m just an old angry white man.
William F. Leonhart III
How does this story fit into the narrative that White Privilege is a fact regardless of one’s personal experience. I’ll be honest. Your experience is completely foreign to me and many other whites besides myself. Many whites grow up in absolutely terrible situations (economically, geographically, demographically, etc.). Many whites live in predominately black neighborhoods and have been told for their own safety not to walk the streets after dark. Many whites with college degrees can’t get jobs. Many whites work two full-time jobs just to live paycheck to paycheck. To project “white privilege” on them is dehumanizing and dishonoring to the image of God.
Thanks Nathan. Definitely a typo
Praying for you Drew that God strengthen you in your commitment as this way of giving up this life for the next becomes the obvious biblical path.